Originally launched in 2006 to produce comics under the Lerner Publishing Group's Carolrhoda Books imprint, Lerner Graphic Universe has grown into its own imprint, adding more titles and series and even making a foray into the international market by licensing and translating a French-language graphic novel series.
Graphic Universe began with a list of about 16 books annually; the line has now grown to more than 20 books a year and is headed by editorial director Carol Burrell, an experienced children's book editor who also happens to be a cartoonist and the creator (under the pen name Klio) of SPQR Blues, a highly regarded Web comic set in ancient Rome.
The Graphic Universe line, which is produced in Lerner's New York office, began with two series: Graphic Myths & Legends, 48-page color comics that retell such legends as Hercules; and Twisted Journeys, 112-page books that combine comics and prose in stories that let readers pick from multiple plot outcomes.
Although she declined to give exact figures, Burrell said both series have sold “very well,” particularly Twisted Journeys, which has been strong in the trade and “holds its own against the sales of other Lerner series.” The company has added new stories to Twisted Journeys's popular storylines featuring mummies, dragons and a secret agent mongoose. Myths and Legends has done well; Burrell said that after 27 titles, the line is on hold while looking for new legends (Chinese and Native American myths are being considered) to add to it.
While Graphic Universe did well enough that it was profitable after two years, Burrell is really excited about new projects coming in 2009 and beyond. In a first, she licensed The ElseWhere Chronicles, a handsomely illustrated, full-color, three-volume French-language kids fantasy/adventure series--and translated it into English herself. All three volumes will be released simultaneously in April; Lerner has launched a Web site and blog (Elsewherechronicles.com) to support the series, and Burrell is looking to license new volumes. She's put together creative talent that includes comics veteran Trina Robbins, who will team up with noted self-publisher Tyler Page for an original comics project due in 2010. And Web comics guru Colleen Venable (also a marketing manager at Roaring Brook/First Second) is working on an original series with artist Stephanie Yue.
All Lerner kids' books are vetted for vocabulary and grade level, and Burrell is looking to do new comics projects on math as well as literary adaptations. As Lerner immerses itself in comics publishing, Burrell has made the rounds at comics shows like DC's SPX, New York's MoCCA and the recent New York Comic-Con to sell books (“we sold twice as many books this year”), recruit talent and meet fans, teachers, librarians and retailers. Despite the gloomy economy, Burrell is optimistic: “We've been cautious,” she said. “We spent a lot at first to get the line going, and we've had steady sales in schools and libraries and we're doing well. Now we need to see just how much better we can do.”